Jesus was not “dreamer” in Egypt. I realize it depends how fast and lose one wants to use the term “dreamer” but given the framework of our current national debate, Jesus was not a dreamer. Mary and Joseph did not bring Jesus to Egypt as a teenager hoping that he’d eventually gain Egyptian citizenship, go to college in Cairo, and live a normal middle class life in the suburbs outside Alexandria. Maybe he might learn to speak the Demotic Greek (common in Egypt) and by the time he as 18, he’d have no memory of the Aramaic spoken by his relatives who still lived in Galilee and Judea. Were the Romans to ever deport him back to Palestine, he’d be unable to speak to his relatives. Home was a foreign country.
Nothing I’ve said is true. However, this is the logical implication of arguing Jesus was a dreamer and lived a life like those facing deportation if DACA isn’t settled by Congress and the president. It’s bad theology. This is proof texting at worst, eisegesis at best, and something we should avoid altogether. Arguments like this sound good to an audience of casual listeners. However, when the religious left realizes that knee jerk reactions to public policy don’t make scriptural sense and may hurt our ability to influence the larger debate on immigration and refugees, where are we then? We’re in the same place our brothers and sisters on the right are; using scripture as a weapon, a means to an end to achieve a political goal.
It’s difficult to make specific, one to one comparisons regarding current public policy decisions and the record of Jesus’ life we find in the gospels. It’s similar to last year’s debates regarding immigration. Progressive Christians quoted Leviticus 19:33, a well known text about welcoming aliens and not oppressing those from foreign nations who live in our country. At pro-immigration rallies across America, Christians (and non religious groups) Leviticus 19:33 was emblazoned on signs, banners, and shirts. No one wanted to acknowledge that in Leviticus 20:13, some 16 verses down from our new progressive rallying cry, was the central Old Testament prohibition against homosexuality, “If a male lies with a man as with a woman both of them shall be put to death.” Sixteen verses earlier, we’re taking the word of Leviticus literally when it comes to being welcoming to the stranger, orphan, and refugee. I’d say, as we did then, we had the making of a credibility problem. You can’t have your Leviticus and eat it too. If we’re going to start quoting scripture and making Jesus into something he’s not, our credibility will eventually come into question. Who do we want to be? Leviticus quoting social justice warriors or Leviticus spewing hate mongers. Is it any wonder the world doesn’t know what to believe when it comes to Christians making right with a past that’s been marked by violence, sexism, and racism?
Many people already think the church is weak on perverts and pedophiles. Churches are giving standing ovations to pastoral confessions of sexual immorality. Roy Moore almost became a United States Senator. It is hard not to walk away with the impression that some churches (even mainline denominations) are behind the times when it comes to misogyny and sexual ethics. If we’re going to drop Jesus into a public policy debate, shouldn’t we do it responsibly and accurately? Isn’t there a way of finding the broad Christian response to issues of war and suffering without making Jesus into a Voodoo doll for each one of our pet political causes?
Jesus was a refugee.[i] He fled his homeland under the threat of violence and lived in Egypt. His family never intended to stay or become citizens of Egypt. Those two facts alone provide the opportunity for church to speak about refugees, immigration, and violence. It’s part of our origin. We don’t need to add specifics to the story or make Jesus’ details identical to our current political narrative.
Jesus is a refugee. Jesus knew no permanent home. He remained a refugee for his entire life. In Matthew 8, Jesus tells a scribe, “Foxes have holes and birds of air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere lay his head.” John’s gospel tells of the word dwelling among as part of a larger, ongoing cosmic journey. Jesus was never at home in this world.
Jesus died a refugee on the cross. Paul tells us that Jesus’ empty godliness found a home only in the death of his humanity. Jesus was not a dreamer looking for a chance at stability. We are Jesus’ dream. He is our stability. His life, death, and resurrection enable us to make stability a reality for anyone who can’t stand on their own two feet.
Where does this leave our witness to the world? The DACA participants are part and parcel of Jesus’ dream.[ii] One of our tasks is to speak of for those who don’t have a voice and who society ignores. To do this, we don’t have to go to great lengths to make brief episodes in the Bible conform to the dominant political narrative. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. Jesus didn’t find an Old Testament text to make himself relevant each time he took on the temple.
Despite soaring stock markets and tax cuts, there are refugee crises and wars to which the church must call attention. Where is there are children, war, and violence fleeing genocidal religious oppression? Is it possible to find those broad categories, as seen in scripture, to which the church might speak? The Jesus we read about in Matthew 2 has more in common with the Muslim Rohingya children fleeing Myanmar than he does the DACA dreamers. I see Jesus embodied people who aren’t culturally Christian, from this hemisphere, and don’t speak English as their first language. Jesus looks more like a Muslim baby fleeing a genocidal Burmese military regime. No exegetical pretzels are required.
That’s a harder emotional sell but truer to scripture. What a tremendous need! Can you imagine the response from a skeptical public, “look at those Christians, how they love their Muslim brothers and sisters (as well as their immigrant neighbors)?” We might actually inspire others to be compassionate.
[i] In fact, I would argue that we are all “Resident Aliens”.
[ii] The Jesus Dream is greater than the American Dream.
Richard Lowell Bryant